Village moves to demolish abandoned houses

Several abandoned homes in Greenport Village have been declared public safety risks, boarded up and surrounded by fencing, after it was determined that a group of homeless people from the area were living inside them, according to police and village officials.

The properties include a badly burned structure on Johnson Court, a derelict home at the corner of Third and North streets and a lot at the corner of Fourth and Wiggins streets, whose owner recently demolished the house after village employees boarded it up.

The village is seeking bids to demolish the Johnson Court and North Street homes, with the cost being borne by the property owners listed on village tax rolls, according to Greenport Mayor Kevin Stuessi.

The village is also seeking a court’s permission to clean up a yard full of debris at 299 Third St. — which sits across from Village Hall — and repair the damaged exterior of the house which has been long neglected by the owners.

Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said that the group of men, which officials estimate could range from eight to as many as 20 individuals, is well-known to local police, and that one of them recently stabbed another during an altercation.

“That stabbing was between two homeless people we deal with on a regular basis,” Chief Flatley said. “Both abuse alcohol and have [had] alcohol overdoses, so they hang out most of the day together.” The men involved declined to press charges against one another.

The chief said that dedicated police outreach and efforts to safely house the men have so far been unsuccessful.

“With this group, we’ve tried on numerous occasions to try to set them up with emergency housing or whatever the government can offer them for housing. They’re unwilling to accept that.”

Chief Flatley said that a Southold Town police officer assigned to Greenport has been conducting direct outreach to the men for some time.

“He’s got a good bead on who is living where, and the problems of their homelessness and the origins of their homelessness,” he said.

Local experts said there has been a significant increase in the number of homeless people countywide.

“Certainly in 2022, we did see a significant increase in homelessness across Suffolk County — including the East End — and that trend has been rising pretty consistently since the beginning of COVID,” said Dan Shea, executive director of Maureen’s Haven, a homeless outreach program serving the East End and headquartered in Riverhead.

“We have seen our numbers — and increased demand for services — increase dramatically, especially over the last year.”

Chief Flatley said the group, which is all men, move from place to place around the village.

“At one point they were bouncing around, sleeping in tents in the woods, near the railroad tracks,” he said. “They’ve stayed in just about any place where they can get out of the weather, [including] an abandoned house that was between owners. We went in there on a couple different occasions, found sleeping bags and food and things that they were leaving inside. But you clear them from one place, and they go to another.”

The chief said the men have also “been using people’s garages” to sleep in.

“Once they identify a house that’s not being lived in, right away they try to use that property,” he said.

An abandoned Johnson Court home set for demolition (Credit: Chris Francescani)

Mr. Stuessi described the situation as sad — and dangerous.

“The individuals who have been sleeping in some of these abandoned homes also hang out in Mitchell Park behind the carousel and do a significant amount of drinking,” the mayor said. “The police are aware of it. They do what they can. It’s sad in the sense that there isn’t a place for these people to go.”

Still, he said, the abandoned homes, which are in severe disrepair, are a danger not just to those occupying them overnight, but also to neighborhood children.

“You’ve got a whole family of little kids running around here,” the mayor told one Johnson Court father living next door to the burnt-out hull of a home that went up in flames three years ago.

“People should not be living there,” he said, “and it needs to be taken down, so your family is safe.”

Mr. Stuessi took a reporter on a tour of the Johnson Court property. Peering through broken windows, it was evident that the interior was covered in piles of construction debris and broken glass, with holes in the walls and most of the windows broken.

“To think that people living here have no place to go is beyond tragic,” Mr. Stuessi said. “But if somebody has alcohol abuse issues, and they stumble into this thing late at night?” he said, shaking his head at the thought.

Chief Flatley said he was glad to see action being taken to board up and fence off the abandoned homes.

“I give the village credit,” he said. “They are making concerted efforts now to try and shore up some of these abandoned houses and fence them and make the owners responsible for at least securing them.”